Removal of totem poles a ‘step forward’ says Curve Lake
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | October 12, 2017
The removal of imitation totem poles at the Bark Lake Leadership and Conference Centre was a step forward in educating people about Indigenous history, said Krista Coppaway, communications and community engagement officer for Curve Lake First Nation.
“It was apparent that the poles were offensive and culturally inappropriate as well as being a form of cultural appropriation,” Coppaway told The Highlander.
Bark Lake reached out to Curve Lake shortly after receiving several complaints about the wood carvings, which according to Bark Lake director Maria Paterson, were installed sometime in the 1970s by former employees.
The complaints came from members of the local Wilderness Medical Society chapter during a training workshop at Bark Lake. They also came from McMaster University students.
Paterson said Bark Lake sought guidance from Curve Lake this summer on how to approach the situation.
“We asked them if we could use them as educational tools,” she said, adding Bark Lake staff sent photos of the wooden poles to the First Nation’s group.
The photos were viewed by Anne Taylor, Curve Lake’s cultural archivist, who determined the poles were indeed offensive and “a mockery of our clan systems and disrespect our spiritual beliefs,” described Coppaway.
“One pole depicts animals in a very characteristic way and the second pole is offensive because the artist made caricatures of First Nations peoples,” said Coppaway.
The poles were removed last week and are currently in storage at Bark Lake, confirmed Paterson.
The feedback from some of the university students and doctors who made the initial complaints, have been very positive, she added.
Taylor recently thanked Bark Lake in an email.
“I want to thank you and your co-workers for being so respectful and honourable,” she wrote.
Paterson said a lot of different people visit Bark Lake and it’s important that it remains a safe space for everyone.
The centre is also looking for artists to step forward and present ideas for a new monument to fill the spaces.
Totem poles are not indigenous to this area of Canada, said Coppaway.
“Totem poles are a west coast belief and are very significant to the spirit of the people living along the BC coastline,” she said. “They’re a carved pole with clan totems, in a hierarchy, depicting totems of families within a certain First Nation, very spiritual in nature, culturally significant and ceremonially fundamental to the beliefs of the Coastal First Nations.”
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.